Brexit Boon Seen for European Cities Poaching From London

Brexit Fallout: Will Venture Capital Firms Flee London?
  • Paris, Frankfurt and Dublin expected to lure financial jobs
  • Luxembourg, Amsterdam among cities that may also grab share

Thousands of jobs at London’s largest financial institutions are at risk of leaving the country after the U.K. voted to exit the European Union. The cities most likely to reap the benefits include Paris, Frankfurt and Dublin.

A majority of voters were not swayed by warnings from international bank bosses, the International Monetary Fund and politicians that high-paid financial jobs could leave Britain, as 52 percent voted to depart the EU and 48 percent backed remaining.

The U.K. will now negotiate the terms of its exit, a process that can take two years from when secession is triggered. Bank jobs most at risk are those trading products governed by MiFID II -- EU rules covering everything from derivatives trading to bond pricing. Firms may have a harder time trading securities governed by MiFID II if Britain is unable to maintain so-called passporting rights.

Paris is already a major hub for London-based HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest bank. Frankfurt is Europe’s second-largest financial center, with a pool of talent to match. Dublin offers exiled bankers the English language and a similar legal system, and Amsterdam and Luxembourg are two more contenders a short flight away. They’re all keen for the jobs.

“Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris are likely to benefit the most from a Brexit,” said Joerg Rocholl, president of the ESMT Berlin business school.

It’s not just London that may see an exodus. Banks saved money opening back offices in places like Bournemouth, England, where JPMorgan Chase & Co. employs 4,000. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon flew to Bournemouth this month, appearing with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in a televised address to say those jobs were at risk.

“We will maintain a large presence in London, Bournemouth and Scotland,” Dimon and two senior executives said Friday in a joint statement. “We may need to make changes to our European legal entity structure and the location of some roles. While these changes are not certain, we have to be prepared to comply with new laws as we serve our clients around the world.”

Paris

Societe Generale SA CEO Frederic Oudea has said Brexit may provide “renewed opportunities” to develop financial activities in the French capital, which retains the head offices of the nation’s biggest lenders but whose importance as a banking hub has waned since its heyday decades ago.

HSBC CEO Stuart Gulliver said in February that his firm has about 1,000 investment bankers whose work is linked to MiFID II and would probably need to move to Paris, where HSBC acquired the former CCF bank in 2000.

The Negatives:
High taxes on the wealthy and labor laws increasing the burden on employers, including the 35-hour work week. The French Banking Federation asked the government this month for “a strong signal on tax” to make Paris a more attractive location. “The competitive disadvantage is such that Paris today would only be ranked 5th as a ‘fall-back position’ in Europe for the financial sector in the event of Brexit,” wrote Marie-Anne Barbat-Layani, the group’s CEO.

Frankfurt

“Frankfurt has essential location advantages that other European sites don’t have,” said ESMT’s Rocholl.

Germany’s financial capital has more than a million square feet (92,900 square meters) of vacant offices, roughly the same floor space as the One Canada Square tower in London’s Canary Wharf. It also has the stock exchange operated by Deutsche Boerse AG, the Eurex derivatives hub and the European Central Bank, which has taken over regional banking supervision. Frankfurt’s financial superpower is Deutsche Bank AG, whose chief John Cryan has signaled Brexit would mean trading activities leave the U.K., possibly moving to Germany.

It would be “counter-intuitive” to trade euro-zone products such as Italian government bonds out of London if Britain was no longer part of the EU, Cryan told investors recently. Deutsche Bank employs about 9,000 people in London.

Hubertus Vaeth, the managing director of Frankfurt Main Finance, a marketing group promoting the city, says “there’s the potential for up to 10,000 positions to be relocated to Frankfurt over a five-year time-frame.”

The Negatives:
Germany’s strict employment laws and high taxes are deterrents. Frankfurt was once a major currency-trading hub; while some predicted the introduction of the single European currency would give Frankfurt an edge, dealing instead migrated to London. 

There is also the matter of Frankfurt’s somewhat staid reputation. Some expats posted to Germany prefer Berlin or Munich.

Dublin

The Irish capital is already home to back-office and servicing divisions for international banks, and its government has been aggressively courting firms to relocate for years. A 12.5 percent corporate tax rate helps.

IDA Ireland, the foreign investment agency, has already pitched to U.K. and international lenders including Standard Chartered about relocating hundreds of traders and support staff in the event of a Brexit, people familiar with the matter said in May. Brexit could push about 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) of investment into Ireland, the nation’s debt office said, adding Dublin would be an “obvious” choice for financial companies.

Banks that have already moved some operations to Ireland include Switzerland’s Credit Suisse Group AG, which said in December it would make Dublin its primary hub for servicing hedge funds in Europe and move staff from London. Morgan Stanley President Colm Kelleher, who is Irish, said his firm may make its European headquarters in Dublin or Frankfurt if a Brexit occurred.

The Negatives:
A relative lack of office space and high personal tax rates.

Luxembourg

The smallest of the Benelux nations competes with London and Frankfurt to be the preeminent hub for banks and fund managers to export their services across the EU. While it once relied on the lure of bank secrecy and tolerance of multinationals’ tax-avoidance structures, Luxembourg’s swift adoption of EU laws and rules for “passporting” fund administration and other services have swelled assets under management at its banks.

Credit Suisse has been stepping up operations in Luxembourg as a gateway to clients in the EU. Pictet & Cie. and Lombard Odier, Geneva’s two largest private banks, are also expanding their bases in Luxembourg.

The Negatives:
Diversions outside the office: with a population not much above 100,000, Luxembourg City is one of the smallest capital cities in the EU.

Amsterdam

The Dutch city, a cradle of modern capitalism, was the home of the world’s first central bank and the first joint-stock company. It’s home to banks including ING Groep NV. Due to a unique Dutch system of collective retirement provision, it’s also home to some of the world’s biggest pension funds, including Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP.

It’s also known for a system of trust firms that help facilitate the “Dutch turn” tax arrangement that has lured many overseas multinationals. In the late 1970s, the Dutch started so-called advance-pricing agreements, where foreign companies agree to leave a tiny amount of income in the Netherlands to be taxed in exchange for being permitted to route profits through the country. Yahoo! Inc., Google Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc. have used Dutch subsidiaries to cut taxes.

“The Dutch have always had a strong Anglo-Saxon as well as international business orientation,” Harald Benink, a banking and finance professor at Tilburg University near the Belgian border, said by phone. “If lenders say ‘we’re worried about our access to the European market,’ then Amsterdam is the perfect place for them to relocate to, given the historically deep ties to capital markets.”

ING Chief Ralph Hamers said in February that the Amsterdam-based lender would probably follow other major banks in reducing its London staffing levels if the U.K. withdraws from the EU. The Dutch bank employs 650 people in London.

“If some of the megabanks, the markets banks, leave London, we will go with the flow,” he said in an interview. “Either the circus of the financial markets is located in London, or it’s going to be somewhere else.”

The Negatives:
There is some lingering hostility toward bankers after the national trauma of bailing out the centuries-old ABN Amro Holding NV during the financial crisis: the Dutch implemented the European Union’s toughest compensation caps on the financial industry in 2014, limiting bonuses at banks and insurers to 20 percent of fixed salaries. The Netherlands also imposes some of the highest domestic capital ratios on banks in Europe, and the Dutch don’t host as many big corporations for banks to service as the French or Germans.

Edinburgh

With Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon describing a second independence referendum north of the border as “very much on the table,” there’s a chance banks in London may not have to look overseas for an EU member. Mark Garnier, a Conservative member of the U.K. Parliament’s Treasury Committee, said Edinburgh already has “the beginnings of a financial services hub” and benefits from the English language and continuity in legal system and regulations.

(An earlier version corrected the description of MiFID restrictions in the third paragraph.)

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